Long before Nemo first swam his first lap, before Woody and Buzz were even stars in Andy's eyes, and even before Luxo hopped after that ball, a primitive model of a hand was getting the Pixar revolution started.
Ed Catmull, the future founder of Pixar and then a graduate student at the University of Utah, began the dramatic re-imagining of animation with a plaster model of his hand and some complicated math formulas. Placing polygon vertices throughout the hand to map it out on a computer, he was able to make it move, semi-smoothly even, in a short film that was actually printed to 8mm film.
He also was able to create digital renderings of faces and the pumping of an artificial heart valve.
The film was uploaded to the web by the son of one of Catmull's collaborators; he later met Catmull, toured Pixar (Catmull is now the head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios) and discussed the history of the film and the entire experience at nerdplusart.com.
Meanwhile, Pixar will soon return to the human body; one of their two newly announced features will probe the depths of the human mind, a bit larger of a task to map out.